How to Dominate as a Wingback in Soccer (Tips and Secrets)
The "Wingback" is an elusive position that has had its share of the spotlight in recent years.
Utilizing a wingback can completely transform your lineup for the better.
The position can be difficult to neutralize, creating huge disadvantages for your opponents.
Let's take a closer look at the wingback position in soccer, how they're utilized in today's game, and how they can dominate on the pitch.
What is the Wingback Position?
First off, the wingback occupies the far wings on either side of the pitch -- all the way up and all the way down the length of the field of play.
They technically fall-in with the midfield but are both (1) more aggressively offense-oriented AND (2) responsible for upkeep in the defense especially along the wings.
You’ll see them in typical 3-5-2 configurations, as both the offense and defense will call on the wingback throughout a match.
They flex up the field on attack and shrink back to be an integral part of shutting down runs on the goal aiding your defense.
Because of all this back-and-forth, it's safe to say that wingbacks run more than any other position on the field -- including traditional center-midfielders.
Origin of the Wingback Position
Using wingbacks is something that has fallen in and out of fashion multiple times throughout the history of the game.
Maybe you’ve seen a player who starts out as an offensive player but has a strong tendency to trek back well past midfield to give passing options to their defenders.
Or maybe you've seen a defensive fullback who takes the ball up the wings from time to time to create scoring opportunities.
The "wingback" position first appeared in earnest at the height of its popularity during the 1970s, most famously by the Dutch national team.
Midfield stars like David Beckham (who wasn't classified as a wingback during the height of his career but has many of the traits that would make a great one) have run upwards of 16 km in a single match.
In this sense, there have always been wingbacks throughout history, whether in name or not.
Nowadays you will see wingbacks in soccer used sporadically as a part of a specific strategy against a particular opposing team.
The position tends to debut in play and disappear -- rather than be fully incorporated into a team’s philosophy.
This is because the position is a rather unusual one.
They're neither purely offensive nor defensive, and they certainly don’t hang about the midfield on idle feet awaiting a pass.
Although the position tends to come and go, utilizing the wingback can be terribly effective and difficult to counter.
It’s a dynamic position that can devastate your opponents—shutting down their attempts on goal while increasing your goal-scoring opportunities tenfold.
There just aren’t a lot of effective ways to counter a great wingback, especially if coverage of one was not anticipated.
Coaching a Wingback
The truth is you might've probably seen these players before and didn’t realize it.
These players might have a natural inclination to trek back or forward out of position -- which might warrant a configuration change-up on your part as coach.
You may have one or two fullbacks in name only who but are really aggressive when pushing play forward.
They may have the tendency to trek deep into the opposing team’s territory along the wings.
If you aren’t comfortable committing to the use of wingbacks just yet, you can half-commit with a 4-player defense.
In this way, there are enough defensive players to cover when one takes off on an offense attack.
Instruct your far left and right fullbacks to participate more and “play up” towards the offense.
Make sure your midfield line isn’t too crowded along the sidelines so there isn’t overlap— teach less lateral movement for your mids so the fullbacks can use the wings.
Encourage those selected fullbacks to make runs and attempts on goal and to get back as fast as they can if possession shifts.
In this way, you’ll have a few fullbacks who are functional wingbacks to their (and your) degree of comfort and ability.
Wingbacks fill a role along the wings that is movement-intensive.
Meaning, they need enough space to operate.
For them to be effective on the pitch, stick with a 3-5-2 formation (or the reverse, depending on your preferences, opponent, and conditions).
Having too many players in front of them -- or behind -- will cause unnecessary overlaps in territory.
You don’t want that.
If you need to stack a heavy defensive line or run a 4-player offense with your attacking strikers then wingbacks might not be for you.
Traits of Successful Wingbacks
The wingback is the pinnacle of versatility and therefore must be a very well conditioned soccer player with laser-accurate skills.
a. Stamina and Conditioning
In a standard match, the wingback will run -- A LOT.
They’ll have ball control mastery and be able to run and sprint up the sides of the pitch both with and without the ball.
b. Pass Accuracy
They’ll also have a good handle on passing opportunities, coming from the wings, they will mostly be making longer passes of 20 yards or more.
For these kinds of passes they will require both power in striking the ball and accuracy in getting the ball to their targeted teammate.
Wingbacks are also often responsible for throw-ins, and sometimes will be the top option for corner kicks.
c. Receiving Skills
By the same token, being a wingback will also mean they receive primarily longer passes.
They’ll need to be adept at stopping a ball dead at their feet off a long pass and immediately breaking into an explosive sprint up the wing.
There is practically no margin for error in receiving passes since they hug the sidelines so closely.
A misstep could force them or the ball out of bounds easily.
d. Quick Reaction & Decision-Making
The elements of surprise and speed in a wingback’s position is what makes them so dangerous to opposing teams.
In the time it takes for the opposing team to shift their midfield to neutralize your wingback’s attack, they also leave a multitude of unguarded teammates for the wingback to find.
A truly sluggish response to a wingback threat will see the wingback taking the ball all the way to the box and making shots on goal themselves.
But there is no rest for a wingback after an attempt on goal, whether as the assist or the player taking the shot.
The wingback will already be getting back into a defensive position as soon as the attempt has been made regardless of outcome.
So, you can see why this position is so versatile, the wingback so well-rounded as a player, and also why it can be so deadly to opposing teams.
Do YOU Have What It Takes?
With all the background and key information on the wingback position, do you have what it takes to dominate the game in the wingback position?
Very few do.
To be an unstoppable and dynamic wingback, physical conditioning is your first stop.
Some exercise regimens to increase strength in the role of wingback will target the arms, abdomen, and legs.
a. Strong Arms
Arm strength is especially important due to the amount of running and sprints the position requires.
Arms will help propel you up and down the sidelines at full speed.
In addition, you’ll need very strong arms for throw-ins.
b. Core Strength
Your core muscles, your abdominal region, should be ready to work and support you throughout an entire soccer match as you engage in rigorous cardio exercise.
A strong core assists in long, powerful throw-ins as you pull power not only from your arms, but also from your abs as you bend and snap the ball in an overhead release.
Powerful throw-in skills only add to the wingback’s arsenal of weapons that will have your opponents sweating every encounter.
c. Powerful Legs
Run, run, run.
The best conditioning to do as a wingback is to run.
Don’t forget to diversify your running regimen, also.
Having stamina as well as explosive power in a sprint are both elements of a terrific wingback.